The Earth Fare healthy supermarket chain has signed a lease to open a store at the Marketplace in Christiansburg.
The Marketplace Earth Fare, which will serve as an anchor store in the redeveloped shopping center, will be the new chain’s first prototype of a reimagined natural food store experience. The store is slated to open in the spring of 2021.
The new chain opened stores in Asheville and Boone, N.C. last week. An Earth Fare store reopened last week in Roanoke. The previous owners of the former Earth Fare chain had closed all its locations in February and declared bankruptcy.
A group of advocates, headed by Randy Talley, a cofounder of the original Earth Fare, and Dennis Hulsing, an Asheville-area investor, teamed up and purchased some assets, including the name and intellectual property. The Christiansburg and Roanoke stores are part of this new chain that maintains the same mission and standards of the original Earth Fare founders.
“We are coming to the New River Valley because Walt Rector wouldn’t take no for an answer,” said Talley. Rector, founding principal of Bromont Investments in Flagstaff, Ariz., is leading the effort to redevelop the shopping center that has been mostly empty for years. Rector and investment partner Chris Carlsen, repeatedly pushed for a store at Marketplace while Earth Fare investors were scrambling to pull together plans for reopening a number of stores. “We had too many stores we wanted to reopen to consider opening a brand-new store,” Talley said. “But Walt kept calling and emailing.”
When Rector and Carlsen visited the Earth Fare store in Asheville, Talley and Hulsing grew convinced. “Walt impressed me because he’s so passionate about his shopping centers – and they look good,” Talley said. “We realized that he and Chris are also passionate about Earth Fare.”
From the beginning, the Marketplace redevelopment team wanted a natural foods specialty grocer as an anchor and had targeted Earth Fare, Rector explained. “We are building a retail and residential district that suits 21st-century lifestyles and incorporates the realities of digital shopping,” he said. “We knew Earth Fare would be perfect for this market.” The location, with easy highway access in the center of the region’s shopping district, is ideal, he said.
“A good working relationship with the Town of Christiansburg has enabled the Marketplace team to pursue the businesses that fit our vision,” Rector added. “Mayor Mike Barber and Town Manager Randy Wingfield have been very helpful in making this happen.
The New River Valley is an ideal market for Earth Fare, agreed Hulsing, who is the owner and CEO of Earth Fare and Hulsing Enterprises. “Our sweet spot is mid-sized markets with a culture that enjoys outdoor, healthy lifestyles. College towns with active, educated residents, like Blacksburg with Virginia Tech and Radford with Radford University, typically fit that profile, as do the surrounding communities in the valley,” he said. “The Marketplace gives easy access to all the consumers in the New River Valley.”
The Marketplace Earth Fare will showcase a redesigned experience for health-conscious consumers to make a one-stop shop, according to Talley. “We are building a never-seen-before prototype – Earth Fare model 2021,” he said. “We don’t want to look or feel like a big-box warehouse retailer, but more like an extension of your home. We’d like it to feel like your pantry – if your pantry had a delightful selection and an engaging support team that is passionate about tasty, healthy food at affordable prices.”
“We’re going to make this store a destination, and Walt Rector’s team makes it easy,” Talley said.
The new Earth Fare will retain many favorites, including prepared foods from a healthy lifestyle chef, natural meats and the Boot List, which is a list of ingredients that are not allowed in the store. The Boot List is a physical record of Earth Fare’s promise to provide foods made with only high-quality, natural and organic ingredients.
All Earth Fare stores live up to the definition of a healthy supermarket, according to Talley. Noting the extra challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, he described how workers take extra care in cleaning high-touch surfaces and handing out face masks. “Earth Fare is a safe place to shop,” Talley said.
The Marketplace Earth Fare will join a strong group of neighbors in a landscaped environment. Previously announced tenants and owners include AspenDental, Chipotle, Elegant Nails, Harbor Freight, Mission BBQ, Orangetheory Fitness, Sandros, Skyline Bank, Starbucks and Verizon. “We are finalizing leases with other exciting tenants that we hope to announce soon,” Rector said.